A new agricultural technology positively shifts the economic dynamics of coastal farmers by enabling them to exploit marine resources with ease.
Scientists and researchers have begun to implement a model that will allow the local population, mostly women, to grow seaweed and raise fish in a controlled setting along the coasts of the Indian Ocean.
This means that women will no longer rely on men to bring them fish from the ocean; they will have their own production units – with both seaweed and fish – within the safety of the ocean shores.
The Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) technology, being piloted in Kwale and Kilifi provinces, aims to empower women, control and exploit Kenya’s lucrative Indian Ocean share of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 142,400 km2. In this setup, species with mutual and interdependent benefits are co-cultured, providing resilience to the failure of one agro-product. In this case, the rabbit fish – which is highly sought after in the region – is farmed together with seaweed in an integrated production system. When grown with fish, seaweed acts as a biofilter that not only removes excess nutrients, but also replenishes oxygen in the water, filtering out excess nutrients in the process, causing dense weed growth.
Meanwhile, seaweed farming is also associated with an increase in fish diversity and biodiversity. To increase environmental sustainability, rabbit fish farming is supported by seaweed-based food that does not pollute the sea.
In light of the above, the structural gender inequalities in inshore fishing communities resulting from the interaction between climate change and Covid-19 show that women have been severely affected. As a result, young women, divorced mothers, single mothers, widows and elderly women in these fishing communities have suffered disproportionately from greater declines in business opportunities, higher losses and diminishing returns.
To address the challenges that prevent women from exploiting and benefiting from the blue economy, IMTA technology involves building special cages along pre-identified areas of the ocean, allowing women to share seaweed and fish in the same system. to cultivate.
Under the umbrella of the Blue Empowerment project, funded by the International Center for Research and Development, the initiative is being carried out by scientists from the Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kenya Industrial Research Development Institute, the African Center for Technology Studies (ACTS) and Kenyatta University. It aims to tackle socio-economic barriers that prevent women from accessing and utilizing marine resources in Kenya’s coastal region through climate-smart integrated multitrophic aquaculture of seaweed and fish for better livelihoods and resilience.
According to Dr Joel Onyango, head of the Climate Resilient Economies program at ACTs, environmental degradation and climate change impacts of coastal and marine ecosystems have resulted in declining and unpredictable catches that have negatively impacted more than 6,500 fishermen in the coastal region.
“The resulting challenges have different gender effects on men and women, such as income or economic inequalities defined, for example, by cultural norms in fishing communities that dictate that men venture out to sea to fish, while women participate in downstream activities that are typically undervalued and attract few people. investment,” he said.
As a result, women still have limited access to ocean resources because they feel insecure at sea, lack the skills and capital to invest in fishing vessels and harvest-handling facilities, and suffer social pressure and discrimination from the hierarchical power dynamics in their communities.
dr. Linus Kosambo, a research scientist at the Kenya Industrial Development Institute (KIRDI), believes the innovation will enable women in the region to exploit the lucrative blue economy without necessarily going deep into the sea.
“This technology aims to empower women in the face of the Covid-19 challenges and also address barriers to women’s development in the coastal region, especially as it has access to ocean resources,” said Dr Kosambo.
According to Dr Kosambo, IMTA has the potential to improve the exploitation of Kenya’s vast marine resources and make a significant contribution to the blue economy by opening new avenues and opportunities for aquaculture in its vast EEZ. dr. Kosambo says fish breeding grounds have changed and their movements have become much more unpredictable due to climate change. IMTA comes to partly solve this problem by making production systems more reliable, predictable and resilient to climate change.
The IMTA system is ecologically viable and sustainable, economically productive and gender sensitive because it brings ocean resources closer to the people through the cages that make seaweed farms accessible to both men and women without many challenges, he explained.
“Women have faced numerous barriers in accessing, possessing and controlling resources. They have faced the burden of triple gender roles characterized by reproductive, productive and community roles,” he added.
As a resilient, low-carbon and eco-friendly innovation, IMTA will not only improve and diversify the income streams of women in the region, but also help mitigate the effects of climate change and Covid-19.
The technology is already stirring up excitement among women in the region. Use the model closely with community organizations in the coastal region to deploy this technology and have it operational in the coming months.
Fatuma Mohamed, the chairman of Bahari CBO in Kwale, believes the project will significantly improve the economic lives of women in the region.
“While we make money selling these products, our biggest challenge was marketing. If we can be supported to get a good and reliable market, we can make much more money and the women will support their families in a better way and transform our community. We are pleased that this project will improve our production and marketing,” said Fatuma.
She said the training and research component of the project will also help the community learn about seaweed and fish production systems and boost production.
“The research component of this project will help improve seaweed and fish production in this area. It will also give women the knowledge on how to manage seaweed production and value addition, helping them earn money and improve their livelihoods,” she said.
dr. Caroline Wanjiru, a lecturer at Kenyatta University who is leading the training component of the project, believes that women still do not benefit much from the ocean resources because they do not have access to the sea.
She expects that the economic lot of women in the coastal region will improve significantly if they become directly involved in the marine resource production system.
“IMTA will ensure that women have access to the waters where the cages are and therefore participate in the production of marine resources, something they could not do before. In addition to making money from the fish and seaweed, women will also be supported to add value to the seaweed and make more money from the harvest,” she said.
dr. Morine Mukami, a senior research scientist at KMFRI, said women are marginalized in the use of marine resources and the initiative gives them the opportunity to improve their lives and that of their families.
“This initiative will enable women to earn more money, especially from rabbit fish, a coveted fish in the coastal region,” she said. KMFRI will be responsible for developing the IMTA model and for training women in its use.
Model IMTA farms will be used to map the diverse opportunities for developing a low-carbon economy through entrepreneurship, employment and investment in the fish and seaweed value chains.
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